Staying Motivated As a Chinese Beginner


Why does your phone still make a camera shutter sound when you snap a photo? There is no shutter. No sound is necessary whatsoever to take a picture with a phone. And yet, the sound is artificially added on top. People just couldn’t stand not hearing it. It went against everything they believed as amateur photographers. They simply would not stand for it. “How do I know the picture has been taken?! There’s no ka-Chunk! Must be broken.”

The reason people couldn’t stand the new technological situation of not requiring a shutter to take a picture is because it suddenly lacked feedback. We are feedback monkeys, we love it. It gives us lovely little shots of dopamine. When we don’t have feedback we lose motivation, sometimes get annoyed, and usually end up quitting whatever we were trying to do. This is especially true with long undertakings like losing weight or entrepreneurship. There’s a natural thought of “Is what I’m doing even having any effect? I have no evidence either way.” It’s no wonder so many give up on these things in the early stages. 

Learning language presents this problem in spades. Because it is a long, largely unconscious process, the feedback doesn’t come in frequently enough to tell us how much progress we’re making. Sure, sometimes you get the great feedback of successfully doing something in Chinese you never did before, but these aren’t necessarily daily and can sometimes be few and far between in the early days. What to do?


The key to is to be able to have clear, short term goals and to be able to track and see your progress along the way. Each character you learn should build off the character you learned previously, each word should be built on the characters you learned, and each time you use a new word in a sentence it should relate back to grammar you are already familiar with, all the while you should be sure to keep track of this process. Just like points in a video game, except the numbers represents knowledge that will change your life instead of your success in artificial game. 

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.
— Tony Robbins

Find ways to play with Chinese instead of try to tolerate it, and learning language becomes just as rewarding (or even as addictive) as a video game.